In spite of several unavoidable delays,  Tigre de Cristal Casino opened its doors on October 8, 2015 and is operating smoothly with landmark business in Russia’s Far East.  The Lawrence Ho creation (son of Macau’s gambling king, and mega-entrepreneur in his own right) is the first of many casinos to be built in the Primorsky Integrated Entertainment Zone (PIEZ) a few miles outside of Vladivostak – it’s also a canary in the coal mine, guinea pig, or roaring tiger depending on your perspective. If this venture does not succeed, billions of dollars of investments in the area could be stymied or even halted.

The Russian Far East is a sparsely populated region with only about 6 million people living in an area larger than the entire European Union. It is the Siberia of lore, but it is located within a two or three hour flight of hundreds of millions of potential Asian customers, as well as Russian denizens who are starved for legal gambling. It is the rising economy of Asia the pilot casino is really counting on for success. In their own country, Chinese are only allowed to gamble in the special administrative district of Macau – a greater distance from most Chinese population centers where the middle class is still on the rise.

When Russia’s economy was booming, travel flowed out of the republic and into China for value-priced vacations and to feed their shopping binges. But the tides have turned on currency values and the increasingly interdependent economies (some areas of Russia do more than 80% of their foreign trade with China) now see Chinese shoppers coming across the border for everything from food to a taste of European culture.

As many as eight casinos are planned for the PIEZ, which when completed is expected to rival or surpass Las Vegas and even possibly Macau – the world’s two current gambling rulers. Already work has begun on at least three other properties in the zone – one of several set up by the government when it outlawed casinos in 2009. The success of the gambling zones, beginning with Primorye and eventually including Sochi and others, will depend a lot on the government providing the right environment, infrastructure and support.

Despite several delays due to bureaucracy and weather, the main road to Tigre de Cristal was not ready when the resort opened. But those concerns go all the way to the top as can be seen by Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District, Yury Trutnev’s comments before the official grand opening. He spoke of people becoming lost on their way to the casino, the fact that wealthy Chinese gamblers already had the hotel booked up for several months into the future, and proposed a sea-route to the casino, which sits on Murav’inaya Harbor.

Early estimates by casino spokespeople alluding to numbers such as 80% of casino foot traffic coming from Russia, but 80% of revenues coming in from China, Japan, and South Korea. Vladivostok’s recent designation as a free port will also facilitate visits by middle class casino goers and high rollers alike. Visa restrictions were eased as were the length of time some nationals could stay. Vladivostok International Airport recently underwent an ownership and management change, and perhaps most importantly for middle class gamblers, it may soon be possible to visit the casino by cross-boarder bus.